Fatty deposits and other waste particles from food can clog your arteries. But which foods can help you avoid this? And why does it matter?

Well, your arteries send oxygen all around your body via your blood. When they clog up, your blood doesn’t flow as it should.

This clogging may contribute to atherosclerosis (plaque on the artery walls) and heart disease. Neither of those is a good thing, and oxygen is awesome. It’s not a hard choice.

In a 2021 report, the American Heart Association noted that in the long term, even slightly increased levels of fatty deposits in your blood can lead to heart disease.

You may wonder what medical interventions are necessary to clean artery walls. But the good news is that you can help prevent the issue by making healthier choices about the food you put in your shopping basket (and belly).

The fruit and veg aisle is full of unassuming foods that can keep your heart healthy and help prevent plaque buildup in your arteries.

Read on for a double rainbow of ingredients you can add to your shopping list as artery artillery. Noms away!

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These foods can help keep your arteries wide open and super healthy.

Berries

From the sweet strawberry to the sour cranberry, these small fruits can pack a potent punch in the fight to clear arteries.

They contain polyphenols, including flavonoids. These are plant compounds that have antioxidant effects, meaning they help protect cells throughout your bod.

Flavonoids help reduce the risk factors for atherosclerosis, including:

The many nutrients in berries can help your body reduce inflammation, slow the buildup of cholesterol, and protect against cellular damage. All these benefits help prevent clogged arteries.

So thank you, thank you berry much.

Beans

The humble bean. Packed full of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, it may help improve the expansion of your arteries and reduce cholesterol and inflammation.

This versatile staple of recipes worldwide has been subject to research that suggests eating beans may help reduce LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure levels, and improve artery function.

Beans can also be good for your gut bacteria (a friendly army in your belly). Research suggests that happy gut bacteria might also support better heart and artery health.

Mung, soy, kidney, navy, pinto, garbanzo — you’ve bean told.

Fish

Eating fish has net benefits (and yes, good puns work on a sliding scale) (OK, double groan).

Fish is high in omega-3 fats, which may keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of atherosclerosis. Research has shown that people who eat more fish tend to be at a lower risk of developing atherosclerosis than those who eat less fish.

Many studies point to omega-3 fatty acids as a key component in helping to reduce the body’s inflammation response to fatty deposits.

Fish may not be your dish. Or you might have concerns about sustainability and fishing practices. Don’t get in a flap! You can also find omega-3 supplements derived from plant sources like algae, which will still provide benefits.

Tomato products (including tomatoes)

You say tomato, we say inverse relationship to atherosclerotic plaque burden. Meaning?

Tomato and tomato products provide lycopene, a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

A 2020 study found high levels of lycopene in the bloodstreams of people with type 2 diabetes, which suggests tomatoes might help prevent atherosclerosis.

A diet for healthy arteries can easily accommodate this flexible foodstuff (but ketchup doesn’t count).

Onions

No need to cry. Research suggests the mighty onion can help:

  • reduce inflammation
  • improve fat levels in the bloodstream
  • reduce blood pressure
  • reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes

Good gravy!

Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits (oranges, satsumas, limes, lemons, grapefruit, and kumquats) provide freakin’ fantastic flavonoids.

These compounds can be effective in fighting cardiovascular disease and clogged arteries (although researchers are still putting together exactly how they do this).

Mandarin orange peel oil has shown potential to prevent atherosclerosis by reducing fat buildup and cell damage. How this translates to eating the pulp and juice of a mandarin isn’t clear. (And who just stands there chomping on orange peels?)

Spices

Spice up your life — and rack up some health points while you’re at it.

Research suggests several spices could prevent clogged arteries, including:

You’re rarely going to eat enough of these spices to make a huge difference in your nutrient intake. But they may help protect your arteries and can make your food taste gosh-darned amazing. So sprinkle away.

Flaxseed

Research suggests flaxseed has significant lipid-lowering effects. Lower lipids (fats in your blood) mean less plaque buildup in your arteries and more smiles for your heart (figuratively speaking — that would be hella weird in real life).

Flaxseed provides alpha-lipoic acid, antioxidants called lignans, and a bunch of fiber, so adding it to your diet may help reduce your risk of atherosclerosis.

Flaxseed is also anti-inflammatory, may help lower cholesterol, and may even help regulate heart rhythms. So sprinkle it on oatmeal, sling it into a smoothie, or mix it into some yogurt.

Cruciferous vegetables

Broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, kale, brussels sprouts, watercress, and cabbage are among the vegetables that make up the Cruciferous Crew.

Members of this varied group of veggies are nutrient-rich and pack loads of health benefits, including:

  • lots of fiber
  • antiviral and antibacterial effects
  • anti-inflammatory compounds

They reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and may help prevent atherosclerosis. Don’t mess with Cruciferous Crew.

Beets

Just beet it! Research suggests red beets can support cardiovascular health.

Juiced, fermented, baked, or in supplement form, beets are more than just a pretty-colored root.

Oats

Oats and oats alone contain polyphenols called avenanthramides (try saying that with a mouthful of porridge… or just call ’em AVNs).

AVNs have an important anti-inflammatory effect that disrupts plaque formation. AVNs also have vasodilation effects, meaning they help blood vessels expand, giving the blood more room to flow.

You know those elastic-waist sweatpants you’ve loved for years? Oats can give your blood vessels that same cozy feeling.

Nuts and seeds

Research suggests that oxidative stress can make clogged arteries worse. Eating foods with a whole bunch of dietary antioxidants may reduce oxidative stress — and nuts fall squarely in this category. These antioxidants can put a pin in plaque development.

It’s worth switching from a less healthy snack to nuts, because they provide:

Leafy greens

Strong to the finish if you eats your spinach. Studies back Popeye’s endorsement of this leafy green.

Leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and chard can give your heart health a boost that could make Olive Oyl swoon.

Olive oil

Look at that — another accidental Popeye reference.

No Mediterranean kitchen is complete without a bottle of olive oil. This healthy fat also makes appearances in many an article about cardiovascular disease prevention.

Studies suggest that including extra-virgin olive oil in your diet can reduce inflammation and other complications of clogged arteries. Researchers attribute this to — you guessed it — high polyphenol content.

Cocoa and dark chocolate

If you’re loco for cocoa, you’ll be glad to hear it’s a plentiful source of plant compounds.

Cocoa polyphenols cause your body to release nitric oxide, a naturally occurring compound that has a vital role in relaxing blood vessels to improve circulation.

Kimchi

Kimchi is a side dish of fermented vegetables common in Korean cuisine. According to a 2018 review, it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipid-lowering properties.

Tea

The British are famous for touting the benefits of a cup o’ cha (and for pilfering it from other countries, but that’s for another article).

Green, black, and (if you feel fancy) hibiscus teas have all scored points in the lab for their artery-cleansing (and palate-cleansing) properties.

The active compounds in the green and black varieties are called catechins. The ones in hibiscus are called anthocyanins. Both have mucho benefits for your blood vessels.

Pop the kettle on, love.

Some foods are a nom-nom no-no for artery health.

Red and processed meats

Some say the route to the heart is through the stomach. And the route to heart health may well be, according to many research studies in a 2020 review.

Red meat consumption has links to gut health, which can be linked to heart health and arterial plaque — in a bad way.

The gut is its own ecosystem, using nutrients and producing by-products on a microscopic level. When you eat and digest red meat, bacteria living in your gut use it as fuel too.

Compounds specific to red meat cause your gut bacteria to produce certain by-products that studies have linked to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular issues.

Processed foods

The USDA defines a processed food as one that has had any changes to its natural state.

Processing includes:

  • heating
  • pasteurizing
  • canning
  • freezing
  • drying
  • dehydrating
  • adding preservatives, flavors, and other food additives

Consider how much the processing has changed the nutritional value of the food. It’s a good idea to choose less-processed options when possible.

Ultraprocessed foods — those in which the food substance is very different from the raw ingredients — have much higher levels of compounds frequently linked to heart disease.

Research suggests that diets high in ultraprocessed food may double your risk of clogged arteries. *Rustling ensues as a bag of Cheetos slowly edges back into the bushes…*

Refined carbs

Refined or “simple” carbohydrates are either naturally low in dietary fiber and nutrients or have lost beneficial nutrients and fiber during processing.

A report from 2020 says that eating less refined carbs makes a big difference for clear arteries.

Having too much blood sugar whizzing through your blood vessels can make the artery walls weaker, more leaky, and more at risk of plaque buildup. Swapping refined carbs for foods with more fiber will not only help your heart and your gut but also keep you feeling full longer! (And they’re delicious.)

Alcohol

Research suggests that high alcohol consumption and binge drinking are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

To keep this risk in check, the CDC recommends that men limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day and women stick to one drink or less per day.

Breakfast

Apple flax breakfast squares

Set your day up for heart health with these high fiber treats packed with cinnamon, nuts, and oodles of flaxseed.

Blueberry and cacao smoothie

Blast the morning blues away with this berry delicious drink.

Lunches

Bean salads

Put some bounce in your lunch box.

Healthy broccoli slaw fish tacos

Containing four of the foods that may help clear your arteries, these are also quick to make.

Dinners

Seared fish with zucchini farro and tomato tapenade

Squisito! This speedy Mediterranean meal will give you time to practice your Italian.

Traditional kimchi

We couldn’t recommend kimchi for heart health and then leave you hanging without a great recipe.

Thirty million adults in the United States received a diagnosis of heart disease in 2018. In 2020, heart disease was the number-one cause of death worldwide.

Making simple changes to what you eat could help you avoid this common health issue. With so many foods to choose from that may promote clearer arteries, there are great options for every appetite.

If you can reduce your risk of heart disease by eating some beans or drinking some gosh-darned cocoa, why not give it a try?